Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh) is a de facto independent country. It declared its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan via referendum in 1991 under the terms of the Soviet constitution before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Artsakh is a representative democracy, has held successive free, fair, and transparent elections for its executive and legislative (unicameral National Assembly) branches of government, and has a population of 120,000 indigenous, Christian Armenians. Since 1994, and the ceasefire trilaterally agreed upon by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh has been the subject of international mediation by the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group (United States, France, and Russia).
Defying the peace process and discarding years of careful negotiations, Azerbaijan ignited a full-scale war against Artsakh and the Armenian people in September 2020. Azerbaijan launched its invasion with direct involvement from the Turkish military and Syrian jihadists for hire. In November 2020, a statement agreed to by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia established a ceasefire and a security cordon around Artsakh. Under its terms pursuant to Article 6, Azerbaijan assumed the obligation to “guarantee the security of persons, vehicles and cargo moving along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.”
Instead of upholding its obligations, for months since December 12, 2022, Azerbaijan has blockaded the Lachin Corridor, the only and thus vital roadway connecting Armenia and Artsakh, utilizing special forces personnel masquerading as “environmental activists.” Given that Azerbaijan is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world and according to Human Rights Watch “the space for independent activism, critical journalism, and opposition political activity has been virtually extinguished…” it is inconceivable that this “protest” is anything other than ethnic cleansing sanctioned by Aliyev’s autocratic regime. Azerbaijan’s blockading of Artsakh has been a consistent policy. For example, in 1988 when earthquake recovery aid was needed to get to Armenia, the Azerbaijani government obstructed road and rail lines.
The Lachin Corridor is a 13-mile, 36-foot-wide mountain roadway. It is the Republic of Artsakh’s lifeline to Armenia and to the outside world. The people of Artsakh rely on Armenia for medicine and acute medical care, paramedic services, and the transportation of basic goods and supplies, including food. The goal of this blockade by the Aliyev regime is to starve the population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The other goal is the ethnic cleansing of Christian Armenians by forcible emigration from their ancestral homeland.
In addition, the blockade was timed for the middle of winter. The Azeri government shut down the pipeline carrying natural gas from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh and also disrupted the electricity grid, leaving 120,000 people without the ability to heat their homes, schools, and businesses with rolling blackouts continuing to cause hardships. To further isolate the Armenian population of Artsakh, the internet was also cut, belying the claim that the blockade is being conducted by environmentalists. UNICEF has warned that “the longer the situation persists, the more children will experience the lack of basic food items, while access to many of the essential services they need for their survival, healthy growth, and wellbeing will become more challenging. Many children have also been deprived of parental care as they have been separated from their parents or legal guardians,” with parents being on one side of the blockade and their children on the other side.
Pope Francis stated, “I am concerned about the precarious humanitarian conditions of the people, which are in further danger of deteriorating during the winter season.”
Azerbaijan’s actions are part of a pattern and an ongoing attempt to ethnically cleanse the Artsakh region of Armenians. Those actions include the destruction of churches and other cultural and heritage sites; thus, raising the specter of another genocide. Columbia University’s Institute for Human Rights has documented this destructive policy of the Aliyev regime since 2020 and identified its perpetrators. The blockade is also a clear violation of the letter and spirit of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which states that United States assistance “may not be provided to the Government of Azerbaijan until the President determines, and so reports to the Congress, that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.”
In the face of the blockade, the Armenian Assembly appreciates the statements by the United States, European Union, Germany, and France calling for the blockades of the road corridor, gas, and other utility lines to be opened with immediate effect. Religious groups and human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have echoed that call, and genocide scholars, observing all the warning signs, have raised the alarm of another Armenian Genocide.